The Sporting Crime of The Century - 20 Years On
Sport is war and at its core in the Cold War years of the 1970s and 1980s was a cancer called State Plan 14:25. It was a medal-making machine that created sure-fire winners and podium placers. Some names came, conquered and vanished almost as quickly. To the architects of State Plan 14:25, a systematic doping regime rolled out to an estimated 10,000 young athletes in all sports during the days of the German Democratic Republic, the names were, effectively, mere numbers, the swimmers (and others) there for one purpose: to serve as "ambassadors in track suits" and show the world that the socialist-communist system was the best, better than the West.
The notion was a sham behind which generations of sporting scapegoats had their talent twisted for political gain before being spat out of the machine at the other end as victims, many of whom still pay a very high price today 20 years after a GDR about to be dissolved through reunification of Germany held its first free elections, on March 18, 1990.
Between 1973 and 1988, GDR women swimmers shattered 130 world records, won more than half of all Olympic medals available to them in the pool (1976, 1980 and 1988), almost two thirds of all world titles and 97 out of 104 European crowns.
One particular battle raged at the heart of Cold War in the pool: the US vs the GDR. It was a truly bitter affair. "A lot of us lost a lot of friends," a US Olympic coach once said to me. "We knew what was happening but no-one would listen. We hated them and we hated each other. We even hated ourselves." Shirley Babashoff knows how he feels. She won four silvers behind GDR women at the 1976 Olympic Games and was labelled "Surley Shirley" by her own media for suggesting that the performances of those who beat here were suspicious. Of course, now we know that she was right but she will never know what it feels like to hear a crowd screaming your name because you won, fair and square, she will never cast the odd glance on what might have been one of the greatest gold collections in Olympic swimming history.
"They robbed me of my life. It hurts to my stomach to think about it, even now. They lied and I was told to keep quiet," said Babashoff in a rare interview a couple of years back.
One of those who beat her was Kornelia Ender, who in 1991 told me of "injections and pills to help me to recuperate and regenerate between sessions". Tragic that a hugely talented athlete who at 13 touched just behind Shane Gould (AUS) for silver in the 200m medley at the 1972 Olympic Games should have then ended up as the product of a state experiment aimed at certain victory.
State Plan 14:25 held that children (for many of those doped, particularly in sports such as swimming, were under age) would be doped with substances such as anabolic steroids, some never clinically tested on animals before human guinea pigs were plied with them, and without the knowledge or consent of their parents. The 1966 blueprint refers to the drugs as "Unterstutzenden Mitteln", or "supporting means". The blueprint would not be signed as official policy until 1974 but experimentation on athletes started much earlier and tests had surely been conducted in international competition by then at the start of what would be the biggest pharmacological experiment in sports history.
The drugs, administered by doctors and coaches, included Oral-Turinabol, a synthetic anabolic agent developed for cancer patients; testosterone derivatives; and "STS 646", a drug considered too dangerous to licence inside the GDR but given to teenagers before being tested on lab rats. "The pills came in a box of chocolates," Catherine Menschner would say in court in 1999. You are unlikely to know here name. By the time she spoke she had suffered seven miscarriages in the years after quitting the sport in which she was fed a diet of drugs but not for international glory. "I was a guinea-pig. I was used to test drugs for better athletes so they could win for the GDR."
The masterminds behind the plan were Manfred Ewald and Dr Manfred Hoeppner. Hoeppner made his base at 21 Czarnikauer Strasse, Berlin, doping HQ, the hub of State Plan 14:25 if you like. The room is just 3 metres square. In it he penned his reports for his Stasi (secret police) overlords on a fold-down table he had installed because there was no room for a proper table. The room was all taken up by boxes of steroids ready for shipping to sports programmes around the country. Hoeppner filed some 1000 reports to his Stasi contact. Ewald was always in the loop as chief political player at the scene of the crime. In 2000, Ewald, then 74, was found guilty on 20 counts of contributing to bodily harm, the tip of an iceberg of his involvement in a terrible crime.
Ewald, who started off his court case a confident and robust man but ended it with a ruling that his health would only allow him to appear for two hours a day, received a 22-month suspended sentence and Hoeppner an 18-month suspended sentence, the fact that they had criminal convictions against their names more pertinent than the lenient nature of their penalties. Together they had faced 142 counts of assisting grievous bodily harm. On grounds of time, the judge heard just 22 cases before coming to his conclusion that the men before him were as guilty as sin.
Ewald was not handed a financial penalty, as so many others were, for his part in State Plan 14:25, on the grounds that much time had past since he had been up to his eyeballs in guilt. It took German authorities the best part of 10 years to get cases to court, even though the same evidence as produced in 1998-2000 had been available in 1992-93.
At Hoeppner?s right-hand was Dr Lothar Kipke, member of the medical commission of FINA. In that capacity he bangs the anti-doping drum but back home he is one of the worst offenders in the sporting crime of the century. A former member of the Nazi party, Kipke was described in a German court in Berlin in 2000 as "the Joseph Mengele of GDR sport". He will also be damned by Hoeppner?s hand. "In preparation for team travel to the US, Dr Kipke forced ... athletes to be given testosterone injections. Dr Kipke is brutal in giving the injections. He doesn?t consider any pain it causes to the athlete and almost rams the shringe into the body." - Hoeppner?s notes to his Stasi liaison officer.
Hoeppner and Kipke sat at the helm of a covert network that coerced and corrupted doctors, coaches, scientists, chemists and swimmers, among others athletes. He keeps a tight ship: beyond issuing "supporting means guidelines" with specific instructions on dosages, he orders abortions: "Should a pregnancy occur while anabolic steroids are being taken then it is recommended in all cases that an abortion is carried out." Children born to athletes who had taken steroids are to be delivered in a Stasi clinic so that "a decision could be taken as to what to do" in the event of "complications".
Hoeppner later got cold feet as the monster he created got out of control and coaches started to choose their own doses for their girls (and boys). Most victims were teenage girls. Carola Nitschke and Antje Stille were 13 when they were put on a steroid regime, court cases would reveal in 1999 and 2000. In his trial, Kipke adopted the role of Nazi concentration camp guard: "I was only following orders...". There to hear him was former swimmer Martina Gottshalt, who urged her abuser to "look my 15-year-old son in the eyes and tell him you were just following orders". Her son, Daniel, sat beside her, his clubfoot swinging under the bench.
The network headed by Hoeppner and Kipke extended to beyond Berlin HQ. In Leipzig, Prof Dr Helga Pfeifer is among those rolling out State Plan 14:25. As she confessed me in 2005 during a reflection of her GDR days and in the days after it was revealed that she had been selling flume equipment for Chinese swim programmes in Shanghai: "Yes, I was involved. I knew about the doping ... The doctors decided. I was informed. I knew. I didn?t want to risk 35 years of sports science work and I don?t feel I have to apologise for that. I know which system I had to live and grow up in. No-one at the time knew how long that system would be in place."
Pfeifer handles the sports science data at the heart some of the biggest Olympic sports, swimming included. It is unfair, she told me, to taint "brilliant" work with the doping that was a part of something bigger. Many beg to differ, if only because neither she nor we can say how good GDR swimmers might have been had fair play been the watchword of a rotten regime. Two months after the Berlin Wall fell, Pfeifer, with official government permission Down Under, was invited to the Australian Institute of Sport. Her scientific papers are still to be found in the library of the AIS.
Pfeifer, along with many others steeped in the task of rolling out State Plan 14:25 were never called to account in a court of law. Among coaches, national team coaches Juergen Tanneberger and Wolfgang Richter and the East German swimming federation general secretary Egon Muller were among those who received one-year suspended jail sentences after being found guilty grievous bodily harm for having distributed steroids to under-age athletes without their knowledge. Several other national team coaches who had continued to coach Olympic, world and European champions throughout the 1990s, also had their careers brought to a halt after being convicted in trials in 1999 and 2000.
If their guilt was weighty it paled by comparison to that of Kipke, of whom one lawyer for victims said: ?He gave injections, he initiated experiments, and didn?t care about the individuals. He knew exactly what he was doing.? At 72 years of age, Kipke, retired in Leipzig, provided a packed courtroom in Berlin in 2000 with this explanation: ?At 14 the girls were biologically adult. That?s why we could give them the stuff. They weren?t considered minors anymore.?
Kipke was found guilty on 58 counts of grievous bodily harm to underage female athletes, was served a 15-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. That was January 2000. By October 3 that year, time would run out on the GDR doping court cases under a statute of limitations and all those not already called would walk free. Kipke was among seven GDR officials to receive honours from FINA. He received his in 1985, the year in which Stasi documents show Kipke, who never once showed remorse or offered an apology to his victims, remains among those honoured with FINA pins for their services to swimmers, a criminal record that proved that he did swimming a massive disservice no reason to remove his prize, according to those who have run FINA over the past decade.
Among doctors called to court to account for their role in a massive deception was Dr Dorit Rosler. Irony of ironies, she would set up a surgery in Czarnikauer Strasse in post GDR days with the very purpose of helping victims of the GDR doping system. In court, Rosler broke down in tears when she faced some of those victims and said: "I should have shown more courage. In Nazi Germany we did what we were told to do. The GDR doping machine was no different; we were just carrying out medical orders ... have we not learned anything?"
No such level of remorse from Dr Dieter Binus, Dr Ulrich Sunder (Dr Sin in literal translation to English) and Dr Horst Tausch. They all broke the Hippocratic oath and indeed the law when they administered drugs to swimmers. They were convicted of bodily harm. They continued to practice as doctors years after the doping factory their talents were put to use in had ceased to produce dark results. And then there was Dr Eberhard Koehler, whose name was linked to the death of a swimmer in 1973 in the book Anklage: Kinderdoping, Das Erbe des DDR Sports (Secret state doping of children: the legacy of DDR sport). Koehler, who worked closely with Kipke in Leipzig, attempted, unsuccessfully, to have an injunction served to prevent distribution of the book.
He was not alone among those wishing to keep the past a secret and denying that events took place as Stasi documents clearly suggested that they did. Before travel to racing outside the GDR, all swimmers were tested and their urine samples sent to the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa, a place charged by the Olympic movement with the task of catch cheats. In fact, what Kreischa did was to make sure the world never catch the GDR cheating. Sportsmen and women found positive for drugs simply stayed at home, many after serious attempts had been made to wash their bodies of damning evidence. Little wonder that not a single GDR swimmer was ever caught, even though Stasi documents would later reveal the names, with specific doses of drugs administered, of generations of Olympic and world and European swimming champions.
Sitting before me is a Stasi document that shows tests taken on four women ? three already Olympic champions by then - at Kreischa. The tests were conducted two weeks before racing at the 1989 European championships in Bonn. All four were massively over the allowable testosterone:epitestosterone limit. Between them they claimed six solo medals, four gold, a silver and a bronze, while all four women contributed to a clean sweep of all three relay events for the GDR. Between 1970 and 1989, no other nation claimed a gold medal in women?s relays at the European championships.
Many a success was built on a little blue pill made in Jena at the eponymous drugs company Jenapharm. Its representative sat at the table when State Plan 14:25 was discussed and honed, according to Stasi papers. None was ever called to account for their role in the mass abuse of large numbers of young athletes.
"If the treatment with anabolics is long-term, or at high dosages, real possibility for androgenic side effects exists. Skin conditions such as acne will develop, virilisation effects such as deeping of the voice, growth of facial hair, masculine habits, increased sexual appetite, and clitoral hypertrophy will all occur." ? Jenapharm (drug company) paper, 1965.
Oh bitter irony, in 2003, Jenapharm won Germany?s Golden Pill Award for services to womanhood. Two years on the company was named in a law suit by 162 athletes, many of them swimmers. Jenapharm?s parent companies denied any wrongdoing. In a statement, Jenapharm acknowledged that the company was obliged to ?collaborate in the GDR ?Staatsplan 14.25?, but that it was not a driving force behind the national GDR doping programme?. The blame rested with politicians, sports doctors and coaches. The athletes? claims were unfounded, the company said.
Ultimately, an out-of-court settlement is reached and victims are compensated by the pharmaceutical industry in Germany and by the German Olympic Committee, which assumed the responsibilities of the GDR Olympic body after reunification.
Among the victims are swimmers who in their 30s and 40s suffer defects to heart, liver, gallbladder, chronic back pain, damaged spines and reproductive organs, tumours, have endured multiple miscarriages and given birth to disabled children. Some declared in court in 1998, 1999 and 2000 that they knew of people who had died under suspicious circumstances during their days as athletes in the GDR.
Some of those stories may only be told alongside revelations found in Stasi documents confirming the sporting crime of the century because of Prof Werner Franke, a cell biologist and cancer expert in Heidelberg, his wife Brigitte Berendonk and their lawyer Dr Michael Lehner. It was Werner and Berendonk who, through contacts that may forever be hailed as unsung heroes, saved from Stasi shredders invaluable documents that helped to prove the existence and implementation of State Plan 14:25.
One of the few other victims to have spoken publicly about her plight is the swimmer Rica Reinisch, who at the age of 15 won three gold medals at the Olympic Games of Moscow in 1980, each win producing a world record. "The worst thing was that I didn?t know I was being doped," she told the Guardian. I was lied to and deceived. Whenever I asked my coach what the tablets were I was told they were vitamins and preparations."
Years on and Prof Franke would say: "There was no medical reason to give steroids. It was against the law of the German Democratic Republic. It was against medical ethics. Everybody knew these drugs were not allowed. The people who participated in this clandestine operation knew that they would lose privileges if they refused to take part.
"But they also knew they wouldn?t be executed. Some of the arguments now resemble those brought forward in the Third Reich. Those involved disapproved of what they were doing. They knew it was wrong. But they also knew it was a matter of national prestige, and was good for their careers. The Jesuits have a saying: ?For the greater glory of God.? This is what happened here."
In case he should be reading and weeping, God, of course, had nothing to do with the abomination of the GDR?s State Plan 14:25.
March 18, 1990 was an historic day for German people and an important moment of actual and symbolic freedom for those who had been suppressed by a brutal regime. It was from that point that the many who did speak out about the massive deception on which GDR sport was built felt truly free to do so. Yet still today, 20 years on, there are those who prefer to stay silent rather than tell the truth that unfolded at the expense of others robbed of their rightful claim to history.
By Craig Lord
The Times, Great Britain